Ours is a day of instant gratification. If we could put that theologically, the god of today is the god of the quick fix. This is true not only in the realm of our possessions, but also in the realm of our expectations. In possessions, we not only want what we want, we want them when we want them. And in expectations, we not only want God to act, we want Him to act right now.
For example, when pain comes, we want prompt relief. We don’t want it delayed. When wrong occurs, we demand immediate justice. When disease strikes, we expect overnight healing. When financially pressed, we think instant cash.
I’ll never forget what Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said on one occasion: “We expect our ship to come in when we never sent one out.” After all, we’re Christians. And God is not only powerful, God is good. And He said in His Word He will not hold back one thing from those who walk uprightly. “Lord, I’m walking uprightly. Why are You holding back? I want it now.”
C. S. Lewis must have had his tongue in his cheek when he wrote, “We want not so much a Father in heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves,’ who at the end of each day sighed, ‘a good time was had by all.” Yeah, that’s what we want in God. We don’t want a sovereign God who waits.
I think if I could put our struggles in a statement, it would be like this: We have struggles with a good God who allows bad things. You’ve been walked out on by a mate. You’ve done your part. Where is God to do His part? You’ve held the business together over the long haul and you’ve poured more of your funds into the outfit than anybody else and the partners have all split. And they’re getting along great. You’ve done good, but you’ve experienced bad.
I want to offer an answer. I suggest that our perspective is out of whack. We misinterpret God’s patience as God’s absence.
You see, what we call unfair and unjust, God calls “unsearchable and unfathomable” (Romans 11:33). God does not set His time by our clocks. God does not take His cues from our script. “My ways [are] higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9) We see now, God sees forever. We see today, God sees the end. We see the offense, God sees it all. And in light of what we see, we read into that how God ought to react. And He, seeing all, patiently waits.
Thessalonica was one of those places where Christianity was not allowed. And as a result, the sword fell there. Families had begun to be disrupted. Blood ran in the streets. Some of them must have wondered, “Where is God? Is this going to last forever? Is this the reward I get for serving my Lord Christ?”
Two things surface when I read 2 Thessalonians 1:5. The first is this: What you are going through is not a divine oversight. You will notice, it is a plain indication that God’s judgment that He’s planned is right.
I love the way J. B. Phillips paraphrases James 1:2, 3. When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives, my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends. Realize they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. I know that when He deliberately leaves me in my need, it is for my good and for His glory. It’s not the result of divine oversight.
The second thing I notice is that what I am going through is the initiation into the kingdom of God: “…so that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering.”
You know how you get into the kingdom family? You suffer. Oh, you get in there by faith in the Lord Jesus, but you know what the initiation is into the real rights and privileges of kingdom life? Pain. Disappointment. Mistreatment. Suffering.
We would never plan it like that. Remember, our ways are not His ways, and our thoughts are not His thoughts. We would have a smooth plan, well-greased. We would have all kinds of rewards regularly provided for anyone who would be willing to give us their time and attention. We’d make it easy. He makes it hard. We’d make it broad. He makes it narrow. We’d make it wide. He makes it tough. He knows what He’s doing.
While thinking about verse 5, I thought, there are three things that occur to us when we suffer: we mature, we are crushed, and we are awakened. Invariably, when I go through times of suffering, I become stable as a result of more maturity. I become submissive as a result of being crushed. And I become sensitive as a result of being awakened. That’s why kingdom life takes time. No one learns to be stable and submissive and sensitive in a hurry. Takes time, doesn’t it?